Rep. Cuellar Staring Down Decades Behind Bars as DOJ Indictment Arrives

Reuters/Michael McCoy
Reuters/Michael McCoy

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) and his wife were indicted Friday on allegations they accepted $600,000 in foreign bribes from businesses in Mexico City and Azerbaijan.

The payments were allegedly paid to the Texas couple via “sham consulting contracts” into shell companies owned by the Cuellar’s, the DOJ announced in a press release.

In return for the payouts, the feds alleged Cuellar used his position to influence foreign policy to favor Azerbaijan and to “pressure” top U.S. officials to push through legislation that benefitted the Mexican bank.

The couple was hit with a slew of charges, including bribery, fraud, and money laundering—counts that could see them sentenced to as many as 20 years behind bars if convicted.

Ahead of the indictment announcement, Cuellar’s office attempted to get in front of the news by issuing a statement insisting he was innocent of any wrongdoing—a declaration that came mere minutes after NBC News reported an indictment was imminent.

Years Before FBI Raid, Dem Rep. Henry Cuellar Made Sketchy Azerbaijan Connections

Cuellar, who’s represented South Texas in Congress for two decades, wrote in his statement that “everything I have done in Congress has been to serve the people” and that what he did was “consistent with the actions of many of my colleagues and in the interest of the American people.”

The indictment isn’t totally out of left field. Federal agents raided Cuellar’s house and office in 2022 as part of a probe into his relationships with Azerbaijani businessmen, but Cuellar tamped down the controversy by claiming he wasn’t the subject of the investigation but that he’d agreed to cooperate with authorities.

Cuellar previously served as a co-chair of the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus.

A source told NBC News that Cuellar’s staff were phoning other member offices Friday seeking advice on how to handle the situation.

In Cuellar’s statement, he hinted that his upcoming indictment would also involve his wife, Imelda Cuellar.

“I want to be clear that both my wife and I are innocent of these allegations,” he said.

He later dedicated an entire paragraph to defending his wife’s character.

“On top of being an amazing wife and mother, she’s an accomplished businesswoman with two degrees,” he said. “She spent her career working with banking, tax, and consulting. The allegation that she is anything but qualified and hard working is both wrong and offensive.”

The scandal hasn’t shaken Cuellar’s confidence in winning re-election in November, however, as he closed his statement by saying: “Let me be clear, I’m running for reelection and will win this November.”

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